Friday, November 2, 2012

Salt & Making Your Own Microwave Popcorn

We don't make a big deal about nutrition here. We think that if you take the time to cook for yourself, eating a variety of real food, you'll do OK. In this post, we're going to talk about salt, a rather demonized ingredient these days.

Salt makes food taste better. We use it judiciously to bring out the fantastic natural flavors of real food. Salt is a flavor enhancer. That's why there's a pinch of salt in our granola and a little bit in our clafouti. In savory recipes, it's not the primary flavor like in many processed foods. It's not added to balance the over-use of sugars (yes, there is often a lot of sugar in even savory processed foods). The combination of sweet-salty and fat in many processed foods makes you want to eat even more of that food, which is key if you are trying to sell more food. We aren't selling anything. We want you to eat better by cooking for yourself.

Even in recipes with a lot of salt (anything with chicken stock with salt added, for instance), you'll find that our version is lower than a commercial version. Because it's made from scratch, our version tastes really good without lots and lots of salt. Our fast chicken noodle soup recipe makes about 8 cups of soup, 4 generous servings. If you use low-sodium stock in a box, the soup will contain about 800 mg of sodium per serving. Most people consider a can of soup one serving, and the whole can contains nearly 2000 mg of sodium! That's very close to all the salt recommended in a day just from your lunch.

One of the hardest things to gauge is how salty other people want their food. We don't eat a lot of processed food and we add a fairly moderate amount of salt to savory recipes. So, our idea of enough salt may not be enough for you. In our recipes, there is enough salt to make it taste good to us. We encourage you to experiment with the amount of salt. Start with what we suggest, and add a sprinkle more if you think it needs more. Eventually, you'll figure out how much salt you like relative to what we like.

Here's a snack that is associated with lots of salt: popcorn. Commercial microwave popcorn has become hugely popular. Sure, it's convenient but is popcorn really that hard to make? No! If you make it yourself, you can flavor it the way you want. It costs next to nothing and contains only real ingredients. Like popcorn, oil, butter, and salt.

You will need a plain, clean, lunch-sized paper bag or a 2 quart microwaveable bowl with a cover. For a single serving, add 2 Tablespoons popcorn kernels and ½ Tablespoon vegetable oil. Fold over the top a few times to keep the popcorn from escaping. Place in the microwave and pop on high for up to 3 minutes, or until you hear the popping slow down. Be careful because it's easy to go too far and burn the popcorn. 3 minutes is usually long enough.  If you want to add butter, place ½ Tablespoon of butter in a bowl, then dump the hot popcorn on top. Toss to melt the butter and coat the popcorn. Sprinkle with salt, about ⅛ teaspoon, and other seasonings, if desired. Instead of salt, parmesan cheese is delicious. Some black pepper is also good. You can double this recipe and still use the same size paper bag.

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